On Oct. 25, I joined Will Creeley, director of legal and public advocacy for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and UW-Madison political science Professor Donald Downs to speak at a free speech forum at UW-River Falls. The event was well attended. Afterwards, audience discussion was so lively, we went well past the two hours scheduled for the forum. It is exciting to see the enthusiasm of members of the University community on a topic so vital to the University’s mission.
I was disturbed, however, to learn of resistance by UWRF faculty to this forum on free speech. I learned that a student who helped organize the event had been interrogated by a professor who was against the event. This professor also “reported” the student’s activities to other professors and asked students in his classes to find out who funded it.
Fortunately, UWRF faculty efforts to chill this forum on free speech failed. Ironically, on the same day of the FIRE event at UWRF, The New York Times published an editorial by FIRE president Greg Lukianoff titled “Feigning Free Speech on Campus.” I encourage you to read Lukianoff’s editorial and make your judgment about FIRE. See:
Lukianoff writes, “Colleges and universities are supposed to be bastions of unbridled inquiry and expression, but they probably do as much to repress free speech as any other institution in young people’s lives.”
UWRF faculty’s hostility to this event confirms Lukianoff’s charges. After all, what could be more hostile to free speech than trying to chill an event on free speech?
If FIRE’s ideas are worthy of publication in The New York Times, why shouldn’t they be worthy of a hearing by the UWRF community? Shame on UWRF faculty who would try to chill this event. If the faculty wants to challenge the ideas of FIRE and other advocates of free speech, they should come to the events and do so in person, but they shouldn’t try to deprive the campus community of the opportunity to listen, engage in debate and judge for themselves.
The event was videotaped and a DVD copy is being placed at the Chalmer Davee Library. I encourage you to view the event and come to your own conclusions.
Professor John Evans
Department of Political Science,
University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire